Clinic’s grant will improve dental care access

Employees at River Valley Family Health Centers demonstrate the use of dental equipment Wednesday. (McKenzie Moore/Montrose Daily Press)

A newly received grant will allow River Valley Family Health Centers to increase dental care access at the federally qualified health facility’s locations in Delta and Olathe.

The Delta Dental of Colorado Foundation (DDCOF) recently announced that River Valley Family Health Centers will receive a two-year, $120,000 grant. The River Valley Family Health Centers will use the grant to purchase new equipment and expand dental access in Olathe and Delta. 

DDCOF announced on Jan. 9 that it will provide $3.5 million in funding over the course of three years to 31 Colorado organizations. The foundation’s goal is to provide communities with resources to expand oral health services. With this grant, the focus is on three primary areas: access to oral health care, prevention of tooth decay and the connection between oral and overall health. 

The River Valley Family Health Centers, which have clinics in Montrose, Olathe and Delta, applied for the grant after the second round of open funding was announced in June 2019. Part of the application process involved DDCOF visiting the River Valley centers personally to learn about its mission and needs. 

“For this grant application in particular, we were impressed with River Valley’s strategy to increase access to dental care for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers,” said Mirella Chavez, program officer for DDCOF. “Their funding will be used to provide comprehensive oral health services at the Olathe clinic, thereby reducing appointment wait times and extending the availability of affordable dental services.”

According to River Valley CEO Jeremy Carroll, the ratio of patients to dentists in Delta was 2,550 patients for every one dentist in 2018, about twice the state average. There is currently a waiting list in Delta, and the grant will help River Valley get those patients in to be seen. 

“This will allow us to add another full dentist,” said Carroll. “The dentist will work in the Olathe and Delta office. It’s going to really allow us to increase our access in Delta by about 50 percent, and we can offer full dental services one day a week in Olathe.”

River Valley’s portion of the grant falls under the “access to oral health care” section, with an emphasis on helping low-income and underprivileged patients get access to full-service care. 

“The outreach conducted through River Valley’s Olathe clinic will help traditionally underserved people who have wanted to get dental care but have been unable to access it due to a variety of factors,” said Chavez, noting that a third of Coloradans do not have dental insurance. 

In addition, Carroll said he hopes the grant will help give the community access to preventative care. Currently, many people only seek dental care “when there’s pain involved,” and access to preventative care would help patients gain resources and knowledge to maintain oral hygiene. 

“We strongly believe that the patients in Olathe need access to that care,” Carroll said. 

River Valley Family Health Center hopes to have the new dentist onsite in April to start seeing new patients. Until then, Carrol says the River Valley clinics are continuing to grow and he anticipates the positive impact the grant will have on the community. 

“It lets us get our feet underneath us. By that time, it should be sustainable and we can continue to grow the practice,” Carroll said.

DDCOF hopes to meet the goal of helping River Valley reach 190 patients this year and an additional 260 patients in 2021. 

 “A healthy mouth leads to a healthy life. We believe oral health equity means that every person can have a healthy mouth regardless of life circumstances,” said Chavez. “According to recent CHAS data, about 30 percent of people living in Montrose and Delta counties didn’t visit the dentist in the past 12 months. It is our hope that this grant will help more people in this community access dental care and understand the impact oral health has on their overall well-being.”

McKenzie Moore is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press and Delta County Independent.

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